When there’s no parade in Concord, the Veterans Home in Tilton tells the story 

  • Vietnam veteran Les Greenleaf at the window of the Town Hall in the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday, May 25, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Veterans Les Greenleaf (left) and Joe Perry photographed through the window at New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Vietnam veteran Les Greenleaf photographed through the window in the Town Hall of the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • World War II veteran Joe Perry, shown at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, was a Seabee veteran and saw action in the Pacific.

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/24/2020 6:47:14 PM

Their voices had no chance of penetrating the thick glass window behind the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton.

That seemed fitting for a Memorial Day, especially this version. The words of veterans have been bouncing off thick glass for a long time, and the Vietnam War serves as the face of that. Plus, the pandemic sidelined Concord’s Memorial Day Parade, an event that’s suffered from dwindling numbers through recent years.

Even World War II now suffers from an identity problem as stories fade and young adults and students grow up without a personal connection to those who changed history.

So this is the time and day to meet Les Greenleaf, a Massachusetts native and Vietnam veteran who moved to Concord 35 years ago. This is his day.

And meet Joe Perry of Maine, a World War II Navy veteran who’s been living in Tilton for five years. This is his day, too, when all parades were shut down because of the coronavirus.

The Monitor worked outside, about seven feet from the two stars who were sitting behind the glass.

We spoke by phone after some Zoom thing didn’t work. Sarah Stanley, the home’s new program information officer, was behind the glass with her two residents, in case she was needed.

She was needed.

Perry sat in a wheelchair, with a New England Patriots pouch attached for the ride and a mask over his face. He can’t hear well, so the phone didn’t help much. Stanley relayed our thoughts, back and forth.

Perry served in the Seabees during World War II, building makeshift runways for our planes at a moment’s notice. He was in the Pacific Theater during fierce fighting. He’s lost a son to cancer.

“At 95, I have many thoughts, some good, some bad,” Perry said, according to Stanley. “We’re all here at the veterans home for a reason, and they treat us well, whether we like it or not.”

His traveling days to pay his respects on Memorial Day are over. He’d celebrate the day, perhaps visit the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, maybe see the Concord parade downtown.

Perry has paid his respects in the ultimate fashion, on the Honor Flight New England trip. He and other old vets, wheeled by family members, saw the great monuments, and that included the tribute to World War II veterans, with its giant columns and circular pathways and fountains shooting high into the air.

Battles are listed. Nations are listed. The number of war dead for each country in the world is listed.

Asked if he cried, Perry said, “Often.”

Vietnam veterans have their stories, their thoughts, too. Greenleaf was in Thailand during the war in 1971 and ’72.

But the horror this generation of soldiers endured, and the treatment they received upon their return home, ran counter to the energy of Memorial Day weekend.

Greenleaf essentially said the country turned its back on him. He wore his green Army cover, a salt-and-pepper beard and a scar on his heart.

“It bothered me,” said Greenleaf, who spoke for himself on the cell phone. “People didn’t like the war so they didn’t like us, instead of blaming the government.”

It’s part of their story, and you hear it each time you speak to a Vietnam veteran, that hint of sadness or frustration that emerged because the country was in flux and the hippies got mad.

For his trouble, Greenleaf said he was infected with Agent Orange. He developed diabetes, which had no history in his family. He continues to have problems with his lungs, heart and thyroid, but he made sure I knew he had no problem upstairs, tapping his left temple and saying, “This still works.”

He’s divorced with three children. He says his middle child nearly died, and he blamed Agent Orange. He also gave us a peek into a personal moment that occurred just a few years ago, a snapshot that reminds us the smallest gesture can mean a lot to a soldier returning from war.

By then, years had passed and the United States had loosened up, its people reflecting on bravery in battle, separate from politics in Washington, D.C.

In this case, Greenleaf’s son took him to lunch at a pizza place. When they left, someone noticed Greenleaf’s Vietnam War hat. The stranger stood up, tall and straight, and said, “Welcome Home.”

“That was 45 years after the war,” Greenleaf said. “That had never happened to me before.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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